Gene loss, adaptive evolution and the co-evolution of plumage coloration genes with opsins in birds.

Abstract

BACKGROUND: The wide range of complex photic systems observed in birds exemplifies one of their key evolutionary adaptions, a well-developed visual system. However, genomic approaches have yet to be used to disentangle the evolutionary mechanisms that govern evolution of avian visual systems. RESULTS: We performed comparative genomic analyses across 48 avian genomes that span extant bird phylogenetic diversity to assess evolutionary changes in the 17 representatives of the opsin gene family and five plumage coloration genes. Our analyses suggest modern birds have maintained a repertoire of up to 15 opsins. Synteny analyses indicate that PARA and PARIE pineal opsins were lost, probably in conjunction with the degeneration of the parietal organ. Eleven of the 15 avian opsins evolved in a non-neutral pattern, confirming the adaptive importance of vision in birds. Visual conopsins sw1, sw2 and lw evolved under negative selection, while the dim-light RH1 photopigment diversified. The evolutionary patterns of sw1 and of violet/ultraviolet sensitivity in birds suggest that avian ancestors had violet-sensitive vision. Additionally, we demonstrate an adaptive association between the RH2 opsin and the MC1R plumage color gene, suggesting that plumage coloration has been photic mediated. At the intra-avian level we observed some unique adaptive patterns. For example, barn owl showed early signs of pseudogenization in RH2, perhaps in response to nocturnal behavior, and penguins had amino acid deletions in RH2 sites responsible for the red shift and retinal binding. These patterns in the barn owl and penguins were convergent with adaptive strategies in nocturnal and aquatic mammals, respectively. CONCLUSIONS: We conclude that birds have evolved diverse opsin adaptations through gene loss, adaptive selection and coevolution with plumage coloration, and that differentiated selective patterns at the species level suggest novel photic pressures to influence evolutionary patterns of more-recent lineages.

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10.1186/s12864-015-1924-3

Publication Info

Borges, Rui, Rui Borges, Imran Khan, Warren E Johnson, M Thomas P Gilbert, Guojie Zhang, Erich D Jarvis, Stephen J O'Brien, et al. (2015). Gene loss, adaptive evolution and the co-evolution of plumage coloration genes with opsins in birds. BMC Genomics, 16. p. 751. 10.1186/s12864-015-1924-3 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/11120.

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Jarvis

Erich David Jarvis

Adjunct Professor in the Deptartment of Neurobiology

Dr. Jarvis' laboratory studies the neurobiology of vocal communication. Emphasis is placed on the molecular pathways involved in the perception and production of learned vocalizations. They use an integrative approach that combines behavioral, anatomical, electrophysiological and molecular biological techniques. The main animal model used is songbirds, one of the few vertebrate groups that evolved the ability to learn vocalizations. The generality of the discoveries is tested in other vocal learning orders, such as parrots and hummingbirds, as well as non-vocal learners, such as pigeons and non-human primates. Some of the questions require performing behavior/molecular biology experiments in freely ranging animals, such as hummingbirds in tropical forest of Brazil. Recent results show that in songbirds, parrots and hummingbirds, perception and production of song are accompanied by anatomically distinct patterns of gene expression. All three groups were found to exhibit vocally-activated gene expression in exactly 7 forebrain nuclei that are very similar to each other. These structures for vocal learning and production are thought to have evolved independently within the past 70 million years, since they are absent from interrelated non-vocal learning orders. One structure, Area X of the basal ganglia's striatum in songbirds, shows large differential gene activation depending on the social context in which the bird sings. These differences may reflect a semantic content of song, perhaps similar to human language.

The overall goal of the research is to advance knowledge of the neural mechanisms for vocal learning and basic mechanisms of brain function. These goals are further achieved by combined collaborative efforts with the laboratories of Drs. Mooney and Nowicki at Duke University, who study respectively behavior and electrophysiological aspects of songbird vocal communication.


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